A fire that would devastate and almost completely destroy Dickson began at 2 a.m. on Aug. 19, 1893. It was the worst disaster in the history of the town up until that point.
The fire began on North Main Street and quickly spread down both the east and west sides of the street. Being an unincorporated town, there was no real fire department in Dickson at the time. It was up to the town’s citizens to stop the fire.
At one point, it looked like the fire would jump the railroad tracks and burn the south side of Main Street. Luckily, railroad workers protecting the depot did everything they could to stop it. Their actions most likely prevented the fire from spreading through the rest of town.
When it was all over, at least 20 businesses were either completely destroyed or suffered heavy damages. There were no reports of any fatalities, but there were stories of daring escapes including one account of a father narrowly escaping a burning building with his infant child.
By the time the morning sun came up the town had almost completely been destroyed. The buildings continued to smolder as the local newspaper writer began to record an account of the previous night’s events in the open air on the platform of the railroad depot because there was no other suitable place to write that morning.
It appeared as if the cause of the fire may have been arson. Some suspicious characters were noticed in town that night. They were followed and investigated, leading to six arrests, but without any substantial proof they had to be released. The exact cause of the fire was never proven.
By the time newspaper reports had reached the neighboring communities informing them of what had happened in Dickson, some probably wondered if the town had met its demise. In the first few days after the fire, it was unclear if the devastated business owners had any intention of rebuilding.
Then, a few days after the fire a meeting was called on Aug. 22, 1893, and all of the local business owners who had been affected by the fire were invited to meet in the only suitable building left standing on Main Street. There, the men discussed the pros and cons of rebuilding the town. At the end of the day, every man in attendance vowed to reconstruct their buildings.
J.R. Bryan, a veteran of the Civil War and one of the town’s leading businessmen was nominated to lead the meeting and a group was formed to spearhead the rebuilding of Main Street.
One of the reasons that Main Street burned so easily is because the buildings were made primarily of wood. Everyone agreed to build back with bricks instead, so the buildings would be less susceptible to fire. Most of the business owners had their property insured, so rebuilding began quickly.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the town of Dickson, which had almost been completely destroyed, began building back brick by brick. Business owners worked tirelessly and in 12 months, 20 new brick businesses were built.
Exactly one year to the day after the disastrous fire, a celebration was scheduled in downtown Dickson. People from all over the area came to celebrate Dickson’s rise from the ashes.
The first event of the day was a baseball game between Dickson and Waverly. The game started at 9:30 a.m. Dickson beat Waverley by a score of 12-10. Afterwards, there was a sack race and a greased pole climbing contest.
At 2 p.m. everyone gathered at the “Town Park,” where 3,000 people gathered to hear a 40-minute speech by prominent Dickson citizen Pitt Henslee.
The speech was followed by the main event of the entire day, which was the launching of a hot air balloon by a famous aeronaut. Aeronauts were flight specialists who engineered and flew in balloons. Before airplanes, hot air balloons impressed crowds with a spectacle of flight that people had never seen. These hot air balloons seemed to defy gravity and large crowds were known to watch their departures.
At 4:20 p.m. while the crowd anxiously awaited the launch, an accident occurred that caused the balloon to come loose and break free, flying away without the aeronaut inside. This accident appeared to ruin the show. The crowd was disappointed, but most were pleased with a wonderful day of activities.
There were no fights, no arrests, and not a drunk person in sight. When a local reporter summed up the day, he stated, “the general opinion here is that the end of hard times is now in sight.”
Justin Spurlock was born and raised in Dickson County. He is a history teacher at Dickson County High School and an affiliate broker at Red Bird Realty. You can read his blog at dicksoncountyhistory.com